What is the difference between an air compressor and an air blower?

Nicholas Edwards

An air compressor, as its name implies, compresses air to store it. It uses an electric motor to drive the pistons that compress the incoming air against a discharge valve. An air blower does not compress the air -- it simply blows or pushes it out under pressure (usually expressed in pounds per square inch).

Air compressors are used when a portable source of pressurized air is needed such as in automotive work or tire filling. One type of air compressor (a "sandblaster") sprays sand at high speed onto surfaces to blast away paint and rust before repainting.

An air blower can be powered by an electric motor, gasoline engine, diesel engine or any other source of power that is capable of producing sufficient volume and pressure (typically 120 psi) to drive the device. The tool most often associated with blowing things around -- the leaf blower -- uses an electric motor to produce enough pressure to move leaves and debris from one place to another.

Air Blower

What can air blowers be used for?

Besides leaf blowers, air blowers are used for many tasks. Air blowers are found in industrial settings where they are used to move large quantities of light material such as coal dust or grain. They are also often found on construction sites where they blow dirt and debris off of buildings, sidewalks and streets.

Some tools that use an electric motor to drive a blast of air can be considered either an air compressor or an air blower depending on the speed at which they operate. These devices both lift material into the airstream -- making them suitable for drying wet surfaces -- while moving it away from the work area. The faster they run, the more effective these tools will be at removing surface water before or applying wallpaper paste. For that reason, they are often called "dryers" or "dust blowers."

Because air compressors and air blowers frequently have interchangeable parts -- such as a high-pressure nozzle on the end of a wand -- it is generally less expensive to buy an air compressor kit instead of purchasing each device separately. In addition, many homes and small businesses already have some type of air compressor on hand from their automotive work. That makes buying an accessory kit for blowing leaves from the sidewalk more economical than buying a leaf blower specifically for this job.

What are some precautions when using an air compressor?

Since most people equate the word "compressor" with terms like "industrial strength," it's easy to these simple precautions when using them. But air compressors are not toys and should be used with common sense.

Keep your hands away from the front of the unit while it is running -- if the compressor malfunctions, you don't want to lose fingers or worse. Keep children and pets away while it's in use; an accidentally dropped tool could land on someone else's toes instead of yours. Finally, keep your ears open for unusual sounds coming from your equipment; anything that sounds out of place may indicate trouble on the way.